Repost of Simon Singh article – real science will not be suppressed!

(Note: this is the infamous article on chiropractic that got Simon Singh sued. It is being reposted all over the web today by multiple blogs and online magazines.)


Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.


Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of “Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial.” This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.


Origin of Magic…

Back at the dawn of time – or 1996, if you prefer – I added a page to my website that, in essence, was more or less a proto-blog…and then kept updating it way longer than I needed to, what with the existence of the real thing out there (the last update, in fact, being just four months before I started this blog).It tended to be mostly made up of short quips, catch-phrases, and sound-bites that would occur to me every so often. In fact, much of it bears a striking resemblance to a series of buttons…

A couple of times, though, it went a bit deeper – mostly because I couldn’t figure out where else to put what I was writing about on my website. One of those times, I tossed out a hypothesis to explain just why people believe in religions and such – or, at least, to explain why I thought they might. Heck, because I figured it would cause some…controversy, I even worked out a sort of (hokey, manually run) comment system for it.

Anywho, it’s been a while and I now feel I haven’t annoyed people enough lately, so I’m going to toss another idea out into the world: On just why people believe in magic.

It actually compliments my earlier ideas on religion above…and besides, I no longer have to rely on “comment systems” that use email and hand coded html…

The Origin of Magic

Every culture on Earth seems to have developed some sort of belief in magic – here defined loosely as “a way to affect the physical world without using physical processes.” Oh, it a lot of times this belief gets called something else – like prayer, or psychic powers, or metaphysics – but in practice, the effect is much the same. ScannersSaid “effect” is that if you do the right activities, correctly chant the right spell (or prayer), wave your arms about mystically in the proscribed way, light the appropriate candles in the stated order, do the Scanners “make someone’s head explode” grimace for long enough, whatever, then something you want to happen will, in spite of the utter lack of any physical connection between your activity and that something.

Problem is, of course, barring the occasional placebo-like effects, this doesn’t actually work.1

So why do people keep believing it?

I have a hypothesis – and the answer is not what you might expect. It’s because once, for a brief period for every human being, it did work…and deep down, we all remember this…

…and, yes, I know I’ll have to explain!

Way back, again, at the dawn of time – or at least, the dawn of you – you lived in a world where everything you needed, everything you wanted just, well, magically appeared.

Initially you had no control at all over this magic. But gradually you discovered that saying the right “spell” – for example, “bah-bah” – and you could make food appear. Mystically lifting your arms up in the right place – such a place, for another example, being in front of a parent – and you were carried high into the air to fly about the room.

Toys, blankets, happy music, love – the magic spells and gestures you created brought them all.

Gradually, however, they got more and more complex. Initially, this was a good thing – as, for example, the “lay there and cry spell” was remarkably non-specific in what it brought you, so being able to clarify “bottle” or “diaper” was a nice improvement – but as time progressed, the complexity just began to get in the way. Magic that once took a single word would now require whole complex speeches. And frequently you need to combine spells and gestures to get anything to happen at all!

Worse, more and more often, even these complex spells could and would fail, as the magical creatures that they controlled now increasingly ignored, or even flat out refused to obey their mystic commands.

Then one day, magic went away completely. All the magic creatures disappeared and were replaced by mere human beings – sometimes known as “grown ups” – and these proved to be immune to your spells and gestures. Oh, some of the more complex ones you’d by now created could be used to communicate your needs to these…humans…and sometimes, they would still fulfill those needs. just like the magic used to.

But only if they wanted to – you no longer had any control. You could suggest or ask or even beg – but if they didn’t want to bring you, say, a pony, you didn’t get it.

Your magical control of the world was completely gone.

Gradually you forgot the details of this “magic.” You realized that the “magic creatures” had just been your parents and this so overwrote the memories of them being magic that soon you thought of all that had happened back then as just ordinary “asking for things,” like you were forced to do now.

But deep down, you still believed in it – the magic – for after all, up until recently it had literally worked for all your life! And you subconsciously felt, even if you could no longer do it right now, there must still be a way to make magic out there.

So most of you continued to try.

Often, you’d form up with others to make what were sort of “support groups” to help you with this. These tried adding ever more complex spells, mixed with a whole series of mystic gestures and often added in magical “props” to boot, all in an effort to make the magic work again.

Others figured the problem was that the magic creatures had all gone away…and tried to locate, or at least contact these beings.

Still others figured it must be a matter of the right mental attitude, the right mental training, and with enough work and practice, their powers would return. Their ideas weren’t as popular as the others, because “enough work and practice” often turned out to be a lot of work and practice – and since the whole idea of magic was to basically get something without really doing anything, a lot failed to see the point.

Many felt that the reason it no longer worked was that some “others” – usually evil others – were keeping it from working and what they needed to do was to fight these others, to resist, to vanquish them…and on that day the magic would return…

…and the fact that at no time for thousands and thousands of years did any of this actually do anything useful continued to be glossed over…because everyone involved still remembered having magic…

…or, anyway, that’s my take on why. And I’d argue it over a Dr. Pepper – I don’t drink beer – and certainly over the internet.

So let the commenting begin!

1) And I can prove it doesn’t work in two words. Two little words. Two words that show, no matter how much you try to squirm around it, that magic and prayers and psychic “powers” and everything else that’s in the “metaphysical” section of your bookstore Just…Don’t…Work.

And those two words? Las…Vegas…